This time last year I did two specials on my love of horror films, including a run down of my ten all time favourites. It’s so weird to think that then, Hollow Pike was just a manuscript sitting on my agent’s desk. So much can change in a year…
This year, I thought I’d share sixsixsix of my favourite horror stories – guaranteed to keep you awake in the wee small Halloween hours…
1. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (recommended 14+)
Easily the scariest book I’ve ever read. Dark Matter sees a disillusioned, working class Londoner, Jack, set sail for the Arctic with a group of posh explorers. But wait til you learn what awaits them on the perpetually dark wasteland of Gruhuken… Isolation and madness are the names of the game in this chiller. Without giving anything away, as Jack is stranded on the island and the hours of sunlight dwindle, you’ll be sleeping with the light on, I promise. All this, plus a truly sweet and unexpected love story emerges. Highly recommended.
2. Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror series
Fantastically dark and twisted, Priestley released three portmanteau collections: Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror, Tales of Terror from The Black Ship and Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth. These are perfect ‘just before bedtime’ stories, linked by a running theme. My favourite of the three is Uncle Montague, in which the sinister Uncle of the title recounts how he came to own the curious trinkets dotted around his remote house in the forest. Much, much more bite than most ‘children’s’ ghost stories – some of them genuinely got under my skin.
3. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A more challenging read. A macabre carnival arrives in a sleepy US town, and two boys on the verge of manhood find themselves spellbound by the creepy circus. Poetic and dreamlike, Bradbury’s 1962 novel is really where all those ‘scary clown’ stories originated. The tale is steeped in metaphor, and while chilling on the surface, the true terror is ageing. The adult characters mourn their lost youth and will do anything to get it back, while the boys must decide if they are ready to let go of childhood.
4. Breathe by Cliff McNish
A hugely effective ghost story. When Jack and his mother move into an old farmhouse, they have no idea it already plays host to a family of ghosts – some a lot more friendly than others. Worse still, Jack has severe asthma, and an attack could put his life in great peril. This one features one of my favourite characters, the terrifying ‘Ghost Mother’, one of those seemingly charming, but frightening changeable figures, not unlike Cathy Bates in Misery. This is one mother you really don’t want to annoy…
5. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (adult read)
Sometimes a book is all the more scary without the ghosts, vampires and demons. Shriver’s tale of a mother picking up the pieces of her life after her son commits an atrocity is terrifying for this purpose. Like Rosemary’s Baby without the silly demon worship, ‘Kevin’ examines if a child can be ‘born evil’. The dread builds as Kevin gets older and his behaviour more disturbing. What’s more you can never really be sure if you can rely on Eva, his mother, as a narrator when she clearly despises her son. Required reading for anyone considering a family.
6. Room 13 by Robert Swindells
This was my favourite book as an eleven year old, and it stands up well even today. Fliss and her mates are on the Year 6 school trip when one of the party falls ill. The next night, Fliss sees Ellie-May being compelled to enter ‘Room 13’, a room which simply vanishes by day…I used to read this one to my Year 6s before the annual residential. Creepy, fun, pacy and unexpectedly gory, this more than any other book on the list inspired me to write scary stories. There are too few books like this around. A great antidote to Cullen-style vampires…
What have I missed? In winter, I love scaring myself half to death, so please PLEASE add your recommendations below!